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Maine drops GED in favor of cheaper, more flexible high school equivalency test

Posted Sept. 14, 2013, at 6:40 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 15, 2013, at 5:46 p.m.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — For more than 70 years, “GED” has been synonymous with high school equivalency certificates in Maine, but that’s about to change.

The state has contracted with Educational Testing Services to provide its High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, program starting in January 2014. The new program will cover the same academic ground as the GED program, but will cost less and give the state flexibility in how to administer the exams.

GED Testing Services — a new firm formed last year by the American Council on Education, which has offered the GED program since the 1940s, and Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education company — was set to revamp its testing module in January.

The new GED would have been offered on computers only. Currently the state offers the test by pen-and-paper, and higher education officials feared Maine would not be able to convert its testing sites to computers in time for the changeover. HiSET is offered electronically as well as through traditional pen-and-paper tests.

Though there is no cost to the individual test taker (Maine covers the price of high school equivalency tests), the new GED would have cost the state $80 per test battery. That’s twice as much as the state pays for each battery, which is a test packet for one individual that includes exams on reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

By comparison, HiSET costs $50 per battery and includes two free retests. It can be offered by pen-and-paper or electronically, is aligned to meet current educational expectations and is targeted to adopt Common Core standards over time, according to Amy Riker, national director of HiSET for ETS.

“The test is normed on the high school juniors and seniors of 2012,” Riker said Friday. “We’ve partnered with the Iowa Testing Program on this, and we’ll update on an annual basis, using high school juniors and seniors so that test is always reflecting what’s going on in the nation’s high schools.”

Maine is one of seven states to contract HiSET for its high school equivalency credential program. Many states began looking for other options when GED partnered with Pearson.

Gail Senese, Maine’s director of adult education and family literacy, said the state was having problems meeting the new, strict standards established by GED Testing Services ahead of the 2014 update.

Maine only offers the pen-and-paper version of the GED test battery. Earlier this year, the state began investigating the cost of upgrading its 76 testing sites to meet the needs of GED’s new test, she said. She quickly found out it would require a major investment.

“The guidelines for becoming an approved test center were much stricter,” Senese said Friday. “It included what kinds of computer hardware you need, the physical layout of the testing sites. They required a lot more control.”

While state education officials were looking into how to get ready for the new GED module, two other companies — HiSET and a program offered by textbook publisher McGraw-Hill — entered the market. Senese called it a huge shake-up.

“GED was the only game in town before this year,” she said.

Seeing an opportunity to get a better deal, the state put out a request for proposals in July and August. The request stipulated that the provider offer a paper test. GED balked, and the contract was awarded to HiSET.

Montana, New Hampshire, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Louisiana have also dropped GED in favor of the HiSET tests.

Most people who take high school equivalency tests take only one or two subtests at a time, stretching the entire testing period as long as a year. Those who are already underway with the current GED battery will be able to integrate their subtest scores into the new assessment.

About 2,500 Mainers took the GED test last year, Senese said. The state spent $99,000 on the tests and associated costs.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story reported that Educational Testing Services is a start-up company. It is not.

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